President Obama is considering a proposed executive order that would require government contractors to reveal all of their campaign-related spending.
Among other things, this would require many large corporations to reveal if they are giving money to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce for campaign-related purposes.
And so the Chamber is apoplectic over this very modest reform proposal. (You can download the draft Executive Order and read it yourself at www.citizen.org/disclosure-petition.
An email action alert from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is remarkable not only for its sky-is-falling rhetoric, but also for its Alice-in-Wonderland logic. The Chamber, in effect, argues that the Executive Order will do exactly the opposite of what will happen in the real world.
The Chamber’s email is copied below, but consider the following “highlights.”
Here’s the title of the action alert:
Rewarding Political Donors ... With Your Tax Dollars? Help Us Stop the White House’s Proposed "Disclosure" Order.
The Executive Order has nothing to do with rewarding political donors. It is about requiring donors to reveal their expenditures. And there’s no need to put “disclosure” in quotes. You can like or not like it, but either way, it’s about disclosure.
Here’s how the action alert starts:
How would you like your tax dollars only going to those companies or contractors that have contributed to a particular political party? Sounds like pay-to-play, right?
Yes, it does. “Pay-to-play” is the slang name for the phenomenon of campaign contributors being given preferential access for contracting. Why would the Chamber be making this point? Well, read on.
Here’s what’s next in the action alert:
Well, that’s exactly what could happen if the White House, as expected, issues a new Executive Order (EO) requiring American employers seeking federal government contracts to disclose their political contributions in excess of $5,000.
Unbelievable! The draft Obama executive order is intended to — and will in fact — reduce the incidence of pay-to-play abuses. The best way to prevent pay-to-play abuses is simply to ban campaign spending by government contractors. But short of that, disclosing campaign expenditures — as the Obama Executive Order would mandate — is the best way possible to limit the potential for abuse. Disclosure of government contactors’ campaign spending will help shine a light on the contracting process and diminish the likelihood of abuse and waste of taxpayer monies.
We understand that elections have consequences. But one of those consequences shouldn’t be the ability to use your tax dollars to reward — or punish — political donors.
Here the Chamber is trying to argue that if the government knows which companies are making political expenditures, the administration in power will reward those it likes and punish those it doesn’t. There are many problems with that logic. Here’s one: The government already knows. Company political action committees must disclose their spending. Direct contributions by company executives and employees are already disclosed.
What is not disclosed publicly are the secret contributions that corporations funnel through trade associations and front groups to influence elections. Thanks to the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, more than $130 million in secret money was spent in the 2010 election, and that figure is certain to skyrocket in 2012. These secret donations are expenditures that corporations can use to extract special access and consideration — without even the check of the public knowing about the corporations’ leverage.
That’s not all the Chamber has to say:
But this is about politics, plain and simple. Consider the fact that the big labor unions would not be required to disclose their political spending under the proposed executive order — the same unions that spent more than $100 million in the 2010 elections.
The executive order actually will apply to unions, in cases where they may be government contractors. But more to the point: There was legislation considered last year that would have required disclosure of all union contributions to groups making campaign-related expenditures. That legislation — the DISCLOSE Act — was defeated by a single vote in the Senate ... thanks to the opposition of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and its allies in the Republican Party.
Concludes the Chamber:
We can’t allow the White House to be distracted with mandates that would do nothing to address the great challenges that face America — and do little to restore taxpayers’ faith in our government.
Sure. But the proposed Executive Order would impose very little on business. It would do quite a bit to restore taxpayers’ faith in government, by shining a light on the campaign spending-contracting nexus, and reducing the likelihood of corruption. And although every government action does not need to “address the great challenges that face America,” this one would — by strengthening our democracy and reducing the improper influence of corporate campaign spending.
Why is the Chamber so agitated over the draft Executive Order? Sure, it wants to protect the general power of corporations to funnel millions into trade associations and front groups secretly. But the Chamber has more than a general interest here. The number one recipient of such corporate funds is ... the Chamber itself.
So, as you evaluate the Chamber’s claims, and wonder about why this issue has the Chamber so worked up, it’s worth keeping in mind the Chamber’s concern that its ability to function as a secretive channel for corporate monies is at stake.
If you haven’t yet, add your name to out petition urging President Obama to sign the Executive Order.
And be sure to tell your friends and family about the petition, too!
President, Public Citizen